MPs call for investigation into potential wrongdoings by climate sceptic think-tank

The cross-party group of MPs are urging the Charity Commission to investigate possible misuse of funds by the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

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MPs from Labour, the Green Party and the Lib Dems have submitted a complaint to the Charity Commission that the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) may be in breach of its duties in relation to its use of charitable funds. The MPs warn that the GWPF may have used funds to fund non-charitable activities conducted by its subsidiary, Net Zero Watch (NZW). The Good Law project is supporting the MPs’ complaint.

The GWPF is the UK’s most prominent climate sceptic group, described by the London School of Economics and Political Science as the “UK’s main club for climate science deniers.” It was founded by former Conservative chancellor Nigel Lawson to challenge what it describes as “extremely damaging and harmful policies” designed to mitigate climate change. Since it was established in 2009, the group has come under fire on multiple occasions for its reliance on anonymous donors. Most recently, it faced criticism for receiving funding from groups with oil and gas interests.

In 2014, the Global Warming Policy Forum was established as a campaigning organisation so that GWPF could concentrate on its charitable objectives. In 2021, the Global Warming Policy Forum was renamed Net Zero Watch (NZW).

In May this year, openDemocracy published an investigative report that showed Net Zero Watch received hundreds of thousands of dollars from an oil-rich foundation with huge investments in energy firms.

The letter submitted by MPs to the Charity Commission this week, outlines conduct on the part of the GWPF’s trustees, which could amount to breaches of duty and mismanagement. It is based on an investigation and analysis by specialist charity lawyers. The potential misuse of charitable funds include several hundred thousand pounds’ worth of spending on one-sided research and a financial relationship between GWPF and NZW, which, according to the Good Law Project, appears to breach key protections of charity law. In appearing to be funding activities of NZW, which are not furthering any charitable aim, is an opaque use of tax breaks, which Good Law Project says is of “grave concern.”

In a press statement about the group’s support for the investigation, Jo Maugham, director of Good Law Project, said:

“The main function of these sinister organisations is to be masks behind which their unattractive funders and venal purposes can hide. That is bad enough. But, to top it all, because the Charity Commission is asleep at the wheel or deliberately looks the other way, we must subsidise those unknown funders and purposes with our taxes.”

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who is supporting the comlaint, said Net Zero Watch is not a charity but is a “lobby group for the climate-wrecking fuel industry and should be treated as such.”

“Public money cannot and must not fund the blatant denial of overwhelming global scientific evidence that we are in a climate emergency.

“The Charity Commission should acknowledge these findings of the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s mismanagement, breaches of duty and shady financial dealings with its non-charitable arms, and act swiftly to end the bankrolling of climate denialism once and for all,” said Lucas.

Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP who is also supporting the complaint, says she is deeply concerned by the evidence suggesting GWPF is mismanaging its finances, and using charity funds to finance political lobbying.

“That those funds are being used to undermine the United Kingdom’s commitment to Net Zero and irrefutable evidence of climate change is even more cause for worry.

“The Charity Commission, which plays an incredibly important regulatory role, would be entirely justified in opening a statutory enquiry and considering regulatory intervention,” Moran added.

Emma Dearnaley, legal director at the Good Law Project, told Left Foot Forward that the group “hopes the Charity Commission will act quickly in opening a statutory inquiry given the serious nature of the conduct and the history of failure to address the Commission’s concerns.“

“The Commission pursued regulatory action against Global Warming Policy Foundation eight years ago and concluded that the trustees were in breach of their duties. No action was taken – likely because the Commission thought that the trustees would fix the problems by establishing Net Zero Watch.

“But investigation and analysis by specialist charity lawyers has highlighted further conduct by the trustees which looks like yet more mismanagement and breaches of duty. This is of great concern, especially as our taxes are subsiding its work

“It is now for the Commission to decide what action to take and consider regulatory intervention – including whether to put in place an independent board with balanced views on the climate crisis. Good Law Project will be standing by,” Dearnaley continued.

A GWPF spokesperson said: “The Global Warming Policy Foundation and Net Zero Watch are separate organisations. It is standard structuring for an educational charity (such as the Greenpeace Environmental Trust) to operate separately from an associated, but non-charitable organisation (such as Greenpeace). It is right and proper that non-charitable activities are not funded by charitable donations and we take great care to ensure this does not happen. Any suggestion to the contrary, or attack on the academic credibility of the foundation’s publications, is unfounded. We will, as always, cooperate fully with any questions the Charity Commission considers it appropriate to ask of us.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Image credit: Pixabay – Niklaspntk

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